For Waiting, For Chasing
ark Nelson, who is Pan.American (as well as the putative frontman for out of commission post-rockers Labradford) seems lost. Actually, it's a bit much to infer things about the man's life from an album, so maybe it's better to say that For Waiting, For Chasing itself seems adrift, since the tone of the press release (always good for judging the artist's mood if nothing else) bespeaks a certain amount of contentment and confidence. Nelson is a new father, and his son Lincoln's natal heartbeat is, in processed and distorted form, found on all seven tracks here.
But as with most contextually-interesting samples, you need the context provided for you; a dozen listens to this album without it and I had no idea there was anything more than randomness behind the christening of one of the interchangeable instrumentals that make up most of For Waiting, For Chasing. As on his stronger past work (especially 2000's warmly dubby 360 Business / 360 Bypass), Nelson still manages to imbue sounds and arrangements with an emotional resonance you wouldn't expect, but in this case he pulls off that difficult feat only for distressingly short stretches.
Opener “Love Song” features what sounds like a cross between a waterlogged typewriter and the sounds made by an alien from a particularly crap science fiction movie, but at least that clicking, buzzing sound gives you something to focus on. The steady progression of the typewriter against distant flugelhorn has a certain mournful, weatherbeaten grandeur even as static temporarily usurps the track. Similarly the dryly clicking, soothing closer “Amulls” manages to achieve a certain slowly building grace despite being little more then a gentle keyboard loop, the aforementioned clicks, and a Matmosian manipulated heartbeat throbbing in the background. In practice it's little more than nine plus minutes of ebb with little to no flow, but Nelson's hand and ear are deft enough that you don’t mind even as you drift off.
The good news, then, is that “Love Song” and “Amulls” are the two longest tracks here, occupying a full seventeen minutes of For Waiting, For Chasing's trim running time. The bad news is that the other twenty-four minutes are taken up by four tracks and an interlude that belie the accomplishment that is so clear in the tracks bookending them. The run from “Are You Ready?” to “The Penguin Speaks” smears together in one drab pall of tedium. There's extra rumbling on “Dr. Christian” and a slight Fennesz (circa “The Stone of Impermanence”) feel to “From Here,” but these traits are really only discernible when you go back to the songs to try and separate them out for, well, a review.
It's heartening to see Nelson keep these lesser pieces to reasonable lengths, all four clocking in between five and six minutes, but given his proven facility at keeping your attention over much longer spans than he attempts here it's disappointing to have these shorter pieces fall so flat. The longer soundscapes of an album like 360 Business / 360 Bypass (Nelson's peak to date as Pan.American) managed to remain consistently compelling through careful management of repetition and gradual growth, as well as the occasional addition of an especially arresting element; both the unearthly almost-harmony of Alan and Mimi from Low on “Code” and the harsh blurts of Rob Mazurek's cornet serve as a focus, something for the uncannily comforting throb of Nelson's work to cushion and steady, perversely lending the long stretches of little more than bass pulse and treble scrape a quiet authority.
But here, wordless and mostly free of melody, Nelson's music mostly seems wan and pallid. On his last album, Quiet City, he managed to provide some structure with his own singing; while “Love Song” and “Amulls” shows that Mark Nelson can and does still make bewitching tracks out of little more than spare scraps of sound, the rest of For Waiting, For Chasing indicate that he had the right idea. Nelson's work has always benefited from loosening his focus and expanding his palette; hopefully the more monochrome works on this record are just a temporary detour.